Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name



Biomedical Engineering

First Advisor

Pamela J. VandeVord


Neural electrode devices hold great promise to help people with the restoration of lost functions, however, research is lacking in the biomaterial design of a stable, long-term device. Current devices lack long term functionality, most have been found unable to record neural activity within weeks after implantation due to the development of glial scar tissue (Polikov et al., 2006; Zhong and Bellamkonda, 2008). The long-term effect of chronically implanted electrodes is the formation of a glial scar made up of reactive astrocytes and the matrix proteins they generate (Polikov et al., 2005; Seil and Webster, 2008). Scarring is initiated when a device is inserted into brain tissue and is associated with an inflammatory response. Activated astrocytes are hypertrophic, hyperplastic, have an upregulation of intermediate filaments GFAP and vimentin expression, and filament formation (Buffo et al., 2010; Gervasi et al., 2008).

Current approaches towards inhibiting the initiation of glial scarring range from altering the geometry, roughness, size, shape and materials of the device (Grill et al., 2009; Kotov et al., 2009; Kotzar et al., 2002; Szarowski et al., 2003). Literature has shown that surface topography modifications can alter cell alignment, adhesion, proliferation, migration, and gene expression (Agnew et al., 1983; Cogan et al., 2005; Cogan et al., 2006; Merrill et al., 2005). Thus, the goals of the presented work are to study the cellular response to biomaterials used in neural electrode fabrication and assess surface topography effects on minimizing astrogliosis.

Initially, to examine astrocyte response to various materials used in neural electrode fabrication, astrocytes were cultured on platinum, silicon, PMMA, and SU-8 surfaces, with polystyrene as the control surface. Cell proliferation, viability, morphology and gene expression was measured for seven days in vitro. Results determined the cellular characteristics, reactions and growth rates of astrocytes grown on PMMA resembled closely to that of cells grown on the control surface, thus confirming the biocompatibility of PMMA. Additionally, the astrocyte GFAP gene expressions of cells grown on PMMA were lower than the control, signifying a lack of astrocyte reactivity.

Based on the findings from the biomaterials study, it was decided to optimize PMMA by changing the surface characteristic of the material. Through the process of hot embossing, nanopatterns were placed on the surface in order to test the hypothesis that nanopattterning can improve the cellular response to the material. Results of this study agreed with current literature showing that topography effects protein and cell behavior. It was concluded that for the use in neural electrode fabrication and design, the 3600mm/gratings pattern feature sizes were optimal. The 3600 mm/gratings pattern depicted cell alignment along the nanopattern, less protein adsorption, less cell adhesion, proliferation and viability, inhibition of GFAP and MAP2k1 compared to all other substrates tested.

Results from the initial biomaterials study also indicated platinum was negatively affected the cells and may not be a suitable material for neural electrodes. This lead to pursuing studies with iridium oxide and platinum alloy wires for the glial scar assay. Iridium oxide advantages of lower impedance and higher charge injection capacity would appear to make iridium oxide more favorable for neural electrode fabrication. However, results of this study demonstrate iridium oxide wires exhibited a more significant reactive response as compared to platinum alloy wires. Astrocytes cultured with platinum alloy wires had less GFAP gene expression, lower average GFAP intensity, and smaller glial scar thickness.

Results from the nanopatterning PMMA study prompted a more thorough investigation of the nanopatterning effects using an organotypic brain slice model. PDMS was utilized as the substrate due to its optimal physical properties. Confocal and SEM imaging illustrated cells from the brain tissue slices were aligned along the nanopattern on the PDMS pins. Decreases in several inflammatory markers (GFAP, TNFα, IL-1β) determined from gene expression analysis, was shown with the nanopatterned PDMS pins. Results of this study confirm nanopatterning not only influences cell morphology, but alters molecular cascades within the cells as well.

The results of these studies provide essential information for the neural electrode research community. There is a lack of information available in the scientific community on acceptable and effective materials for neural electrode fabrication. The results of the presented studies provide more information which could lead to classifying guidelines to create biocompatible neural electrode materials.

This research project was partially supported by the Wayne State University President's Translational Enhancement Award and by the Kales Scholarship for Biomedical Engineering students.